Television review

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The Independent Culture
There were several moments in Inside Story's documentary about mountain rescue (BBC1) when you felt it would have been tactful to run a "Do Not Adjust Your Set" notice. It looked, at times, like an engineer's nightmare. Had the Daventry antenna been hit by lightning? Had someone spilled coffee into the VTR machine? No, it was just the British weather, doing its best to blow the camera crew off the top of a Scottish mountain. Through a speckle of snow you peered into a whiteout. If you assumed that the colourful blobs were people and that the more mobile ones were likely to be the rescuers it just about made sense - but you had to take it on trust. Every now and then a mittened hand would reach up and frantically rearrange the smear and fog into a different pattern, as if it was setting a new puzzle for you.

This wasn't, as it happened, a huge handicap, because it gave you a vivid sense of the hellish circumstances in which the rescue teams work. During one of the searches filmed, the windspeed reached 130 miles per hour: in such conditions it doesn't take a helicopter to get you airborne, particularly if you're standing on the edge of a cliff attempting to locate an injured man. In that case, as in so many others, they finally recovered a corpse, the body of an experienced climber who had lost his gamble with the mountain.

The film usefully corrected some myths. The popular newspaper story - the one about taciturn heroes endangered by witless ramblers, at a huge cost to ordinary taxpayers - doesn't seem to go down too well with the taciturn heroes themselves. It isn't that dangerous, they explained, and it isn't that expensive: the cost of running eight mountain rescue teams was estimated by one contributor at around pounds 50,000, which makes the 300 rescues they performed in one year seem reasonably cost-effective. And while every endangered climber potentially endangers many others, there's no sense of foolhardiness about the attempts to get them down. Instead you have a collegiate sense of mutual insurance - climbers prepared to help other climbers because they know full well they may need the compliment returned some day.

The Mind Field (Channel 4) moved on to power games, after last week's opener on lying. The programme doesn't have an argument as such, consisting mostly of the did-you-know? type of material which is so useful in provoking pub conversations. Last week we discovered that blindfolded subjects are more efficient at detecting liars than those who can check visual cues, overturning the conventional wisdom that the eyes are the windows of the soul (Did you know that blind people aren't allowed to serve on juries? Well, I mean, it doesn't make sense does it?...).

This week Kwame McKenzie explored power games, again with the help of some Candid Camera-style experiments. Passers-by were asked, by a third party, to give 20p to a motorist who didn't have enough money for the meter. When the good samaritan was in uniform, more than twice as many people complied as when he was casually dressed, suggesting either that obedience runs deep in the British psyche, or that most people aren't too fussed about handing over such a small sum. When the motorist was a woman almost everyone coughed up, which may well be of interest to female drivers next time they find they are strapped for cash. Just ask and ye shall receive.

The series, to its credit, is engagingly honest about how far such experiments can go. Last week they confessed to having lied about their lying experiment, because their small sample didn't deliver the right result; this week McKenzie came clean about the power games he'd played with the viewer, adjusting his performance for extra gravitas. A very clever power game this: the owning up just made you trust him more.

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